I have a suggestion for the executive of the Queen's University Alumni Association (QUAA). I assume that I and other alumni will be receiving the annual seasonal greeting from the QUAA President this December. While I'm always pleased to receive such messages, in recent years I've been disappointed that the QUAA has neglected to wish us a "Merry Christmas." For instance, one end-of-year email I received a few years ago was headed, "Season's Greetings," and it wished us "Peace and Joy Throughout the Holiday Season." The primary reason this is the "Holiday" season is because of Christmas, which is one of the most important holidays in our culture.
The celebration of Christmas has been a part of the Queen's calendar for many years, as this Queen's Archives photo of a 1948 Christmas party in Grant Hall attests.
For Christians, Christmas is, of course, the blessed commemoration of their Saviour's birth. However, for Christians, those of other faiths and non-believers alike, Christmas represents a time of generosity, good cheer, and universal goodwill. It's a shame not to acknowledge such an important celebration by its real name.
As Queen's alumni, we take pride in our University and its many deep-rooted traditions. Christmas is an important and deeply rooted tradition for our country, too. It has been celebrated, in some form, in Canada for well over 400 years. December 25th is a statutory holiday by an act of our democratically elected Parliament. Any citizens who do not believe this should be so are perfectly free to petition their Members of Parliament to repeal this designation. However, I suspect that such a proposal would fail to garner even a single vote of support in our House of Commons.
Christmas is also publicly marked by our head of state, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, through her annual Christmas message to all her subjects of many creeds in many countries. (Elizabeth II, of course, also happens to be the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, for whom our University is named.) The simple fact is that the majority of Canadians value the celebration of Christmas, and our national institutions continue to reflect this reality.
Christmas has also long been a special part of life at Queen's. To gather students and faculty to say goodbye before the University closes for the Christmas holidays, the Engineering Society for many years has sponsored a Christmas carol service in Grant Hall. Every campus dining room offers a festive Christmas dinner before the break. The School of Music is a key participant in the annual Candlelight Christmas service at St. George's Cathedral. I fondly recall attending one of these services myself during my student years.
So, while our University rightly welcomes people of all backgrounds and beliefs, this is no reason not to uphold a cultural tradition rooted in its Christian students' heritage. After all, we're not going to stop singing the Oil Thigh in its original Gaelic simply because not all Queen's students are of Scottish origin. Our traditions can be enjoyed and embraced by all, and they are.
The University also acknowledges the role of religion in society in other ways. Queen's itself was founded by the Presbyterian Church, originally for the education of its ministers in the growing colony of Canada. For 100 years it has included a Theological College for the education of United Church clergy. The Faculty of Education has special courses for those wanting to teach in Catholic Schools. The JDUC has prayer rooms for Muslim students – students who, if they are from overseas, often are welcomed into Christian homes in Kingston when the residences close for Christmas. We're all grateful and proud of the efforts our forbears made to build this University and of the efforts of succeeding administrations to accommodate diversity. We can continue to show this by respecting the rich cultural legacy they've bequeathed to us.
I will close this appeal with a personal note. In December of 2009, I was serving in Afghanistan with the Canadian Forces. The celebration of Christmas is also a proud tradition in Canada's military. Examples of this include the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914. During WWII, Canadian troops famously celebrated Christmas under fire in Ortona, Italy, in 1943. (John Matheson, Arts'40, LLD'84, can attest to that.)
While serving in Southern Afghanistan, I attended a Christmas dinner at the Kandahar Air Field. As an officer, I helped serve the troops, which is a long-standing military tradition. On many occasions, such high-profile guests as the Governor General and the Minister of National Defence have also helped serve our troops Christmas dinner.
Lt (N) Scott Kemp is a former News Editor of Queen's Journal and has seved in the Canadian military since 2002.
If our country's elected leaders, our Parliament, our sovereign and her representatives all publicly acknowledge Christmas, I see no reason why the QUAA cannot do the same. I continue to be very gratified by the support I have received for my military service from Canadians here at home. I would be even more gratified if Queen's alumni would do our part to uphold our country's proud cultural legacy within our own Queen's community.
I wish my fellow alumni all the best in 2012. And, of course, I wish everyone a "Merry Christmas."